S'pore has options despite US' TPP withdrawal: Minister

The United States' withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a setback for the massive trade deal, but does not necessarily spell its end, Trade and Industry (Trade) Minister Lim Hng Kiang said in Parliament yesterday.

He said each of the remaining 11 TPP members - the US was the 12th - must now study the benefits of proceeding with the agreement and consider the value such a deal would bring to their economies.

The TPP cannot come into effect in its current form without the participation of the US, but there could be other possible outcomes, he added.

For example, the 11 countries could decide to push ahead with the TPP and ratify it, in the hopes that the US government would change its mind and rejoin the deal.

They might also pursue "TPP 11" - the same deal, but redrawn to exclude the US, or they could decide to ditch the TPP and instead pursue bilateral trade deals with one another.

In the meantime, Mr Lim said Singapore will stay the course in remaining an open and connected economy.

This means, for example, working with international partners and bodies such as the World Trade Organisation to be an advocate for a rules-based trading system.

Singapore will also pursue other opportunities to strengthen its trade linkages with regional partners, such as through the Asean Economic Community and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) - an Asia-Pacific trade liberalisation initiative led by China that includes the 10 Asean members, as well as Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and India.

Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) asked about what was next for the RCEP after the last round of negotiations in October last year.

Mr Lim said the pact is "progressing a bit slowly" because some of the partners do not have bilateral free-trade agreements (FTAs) with each other.

"For example, China and India do not have an FTA with each other. So they are coming together for the first time. One can imagine, with two huge economies starting from scratch, that is a huge challenge."

Mr Patrick Tay, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower, asked what the impact of the US withdrawal from the TPP would be on workers and unions in Singapore.

Mr Lim replied that the impact would not be very significant: "What we forgo in not continuing with the TPP are incremental benefits that we would have achieved over and above the benefits that we already have, through existing bilateral FTAs with nine of the countries in the TPP group."

Singapore has a bilateral free-trade pact with the US, as well as with all of the other TPP countries except Canada and Mexico.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 07, 2017, with the headline 'S'pore has options despite US' TPP withdrawal: Minister'. Print Edition | Subscribe